Date: 5th July 2021

Staying open during lockdown was right for DBS customers, Alex tells Humans of the High Street

FOR Alex Robson, Stockton branch manager of Darlington Building Society, staying open throughout the pandemic gave him a welcome sense of normality.

But it has not been without its challenges, with some staff having to shield or isolate and the need to make the premises Covid secure, so customers who wanted that face-to-face contact felt safe enough to come in.

During his interview for the Stockton BID (Business Improvement District) Humans of the High Street series, Alex praised the work of the BID for bringing everyone together and making High Street businesses connected.

He is also delighted that the Building Society has been able to continue to provide the friendly customer service that regulars to the branch are used to.

Alex said: “We did still open throughout the lockdowns and personally I was glad of that because it kept me a bit more grounded when everything was going a bit crazy on the outside!

“It was a bit of normality and we were able to do those things we take for granted like talking to other colleagues.

“Things like the sale of mortgages are a big thing in people’s lives and people want to talk to somebody face to face about things like that, so we were pleased we were able to give customers that option in addition to our online, telephone and postal services.”

Alex says the team at Darlington Building Society “love” seeing customers come through the door and most wanted to keep working as normal.

But Alex admits he had to change his mentality to ensure things were Covid safe and to help customers in the best way for them, whether that was through carrying out transactions in person or using other methods they were perhaps not previously familiar with.

Alex said: “We wanted to keep our customers coming in if it was safe to do so and if they wanted to – we do have an online service and telephone and postal services but we wanted the customer to have the choice of which they wanted to use.

“It’s just been nice having a bit of normality.

“We wanted to be there to try to offer them the same type of experience than they would have had before the lockdown, albeit with a screen between us.”

The Stockton branch is one of nine across Teesside and Darlington Alex says that unlike other banks and building societies that have moved out of the High Street “we want to be there”.

“We know that for some people, regardless of their generation, they want to speak to a person in branch,” he said.

“When I got my mortgage, I went to speak to someone in person.

“We’ve had quite a lot of customers thanking us for being there, customers have even brought in gifts.

“To get thanks and recognition from the customers that have come in has been great.”

Alex says the regular customers that come in every week become quite well known and know a lot of the staff by name.

He is proud that the Building Society has been able to provide some normality for its regular customers, saying: “That’s what we are there for – the people who walk through the door.”

The workforce at the Stockton branch pulled together and supported one another, especially those staff who had to take time off.

“It felt like everyone came together and said we are all in this together and we are here to support each other,” said Alex.

“Working has kept us away from what’s happening in the news and the seriousness of it all.

“It definitely was a challenge and some people had more anxieties than others - we had some people who had been out of work for three months or so and then came back to work and for them, getting back to business as usual was a challenge.

“But all the staff have managed really well.”

In terms of the support from Stockton BID, Alex praised BID manager Jason Maxwell for popping into the branch and asking: ‘is there anything you need in terms of equipment such as markings for outside the branch?’

He said: “Just to know that there is some support there and just knowing that you’ve got that connection with the High Street is great.

“There seems to be a real sense of community in Stockton.”

Jason said: “We are going through a global pandemic but what this challenging period has shown is that people have been pushed towards being hyperlocal.

“They are shopping in their own towns and doing things in their own High Streets and even if they shop online they’re buying from a local business.

“The pandemic has brought people together in that way and from our point of view, that’s what we want to keep pushing – that message to support your local businesses.”

To view the Humans of the High Street Videos visit YouTube and Stockton BID’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels.

Sam Withers